Bilingualism key to the future

Daily Mirror Editorial

Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran who had been in the centre of several controversies in the recent times had revealed an important move which was to be taken by his Council with regard to understanding between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil-speaking people in the country.

During a prize giving ceremony at the Nallur Hindu College in Jaffna on Monday, the Chief Minister said that his administration was going to present an Act in the Council making it compulsory for the students of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces to learn both the official languages of the country — Sinhala and Tamil. Discussions are underway with the leaders of the Eastern Province on the possibility of presenting a Bill in both Provincial Councils to this effect, according to the Chief Minister.

He also said that the programme to teach both Sinhala and Tamil would be extended to the public servants as well in the two provinces, because both are official languages and knowledge in both would open more opportunities for the future. He pointed out that the lack of interest by Sinhalese and Tamils in learning each other’s languages led to mistrust among communities.

Many southerners might find it difficult to read Wigneswaran’s mind which seems to the South to be blowing hot and cold. He presented a resolution in January 2014 in his Council calling for an international investigation into the war crimes allegedly committed during the war. Then last year he adopted another resolution in the Council which claimed that genocide against Tamils had taken place in the North and the East during the war. And in September he irritated the South by holding his much publicized ‘Ezhuga Thamil’ demonstration. However, he refused to hoist the LTTE flag last month at a function organised by the pro-LTTE Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC) at Harrow in London. And now he is going to make both official languages compulsory, claiming that they facilitate reconciliation.

Nevertheless, move to teach students and public servants both Sinhala and Tamil should be commended. Though understanding each other’s languages does not necessarily bring in total reconciliation or understanding between communities, one must accept that it facilitates to that effect. In the light of the media being highly divided on ethnic lines, building bilingual and trilingual capacities among the people is becoming more and more a necessity, in order for them to judge the situations independently. People’s independence of the media of a particular language would push the media in general to be more objective.

Lack of knowledge in each other’s language still creates new issues apart from the 30-year long bloody war that claimed thousands of lives. A good case in point is, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress’s demand for a separate Tamil-speaking (serving) Kachcheri in Kalmunai, which has been interpreted by politicians in Colombo as a demand for a separate State.The demand for a separate Kachcheri was a result of the Tamil-speaking people in Amparai District facing many difficulties at the Amparai Kachcheri due to their lack of knowledge in the Sinhala language.

Successive governments have started programmes time and again to teach both the official languages in schools, but with little success. There has always been a trend among Tamil and Muslim students as well as adults to learn Sinhala, while the interest among the Sinhala students in the South to learn Tamil cannot be called a trend, leading to the programmes to come a cropper. The simple reason is that Tamil speaking people — Tamils and Muslims — feel the necessity of Sinhala knowledge in their day-to-day life and not vice versa.

However, the case with the people in the North and the East, irrespective of their ethnicity is different where people in those provinces have a propensity to learn Sinhala soon, as they have to interact with their provincial administration in Tamil while doing so with the Central Government in Sinhala.

Nevertheless, all the grounds Wigneswaran had pointed out justifying the bilingualism are, no doubt, sound and acceptable and the Central Government, and more particularly the Provincial Councils, such as the Western, Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa should take a leaf out of his book.

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